⚽ What a difference a decade has made for Brand Beckham
Beckham's journey from leading England's doomed World Cup bid to new face of Qatar 2022 has been a business plan full of ups and downs
Some contrast with December 2010, when the great and good of British sport were hailing his free-of-charge campaign efforts spearheading England’s ill-fated World Cup 2018 bid.“He has stardust,” enthused campaign chief Lord Coe as Beckham was dispatched with Prince William and David Cameron to a five-star Zurich hotel as part of a last-ditch lobbying mission. “He will be talking about the importance of football in his life and in his family, talking for millions and millions of kids. He is a believable character.”Read more: The Telegraph »
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What a difference a decade has made for Brand Beckham, now facing criticism for setting up shop in the Qatari desert. Some contrast with December 2010, when the great and good of British sport were hailing his free-of-charge campaign efforts spearheading England’s ill-fated World Cup 2018 bid. “He has stardust,” enthused campaign chief Lord Coe as Beckham was dispatched with Prince William and David Cameron to a five-star Zurich hotel as part of a last-ditch lobbying mission. “He will be talking about the importance of football in his life and in his family, talking for millions and millions of kids. He is a believable character.” England, of course, were undone the next day by a Fifa vote that still casts a cloud. Humiliation, as the tournament was handed to Russia in 2018 and Qatar next year. But for David Beckham, in the twilight of his playing career, the trip cemented his status as a figure at the heart of British establishment. Like his role beforehand for the London 2012 Olympics bid, he never received a penny for his international campaigning. Instead, he and wife Victoria would be rewarded with closer-than-ever ties with the Prime Minister and even Prince William, who swiftly invited them to his wedding the following April. Today, more than a decade on, he remains in credit amongst the powerbrokers. It was notable that nobody within Government or football joined human rights campaigners in crying foul after details of his lucrative new partnership with Qatar became clear this week. However, the reported £150million deal he has now struck with one of the beneficiaries of that humiliating Fifa vote in Zurich reveals Beckham now has other priorities to compete with the knighthood he has long coveted. His official explanation for working with the 2022 tournament is that he wants to use football “as a force for good” in a country he has been visiting “for more than a decade”. Yet there is no denying the money will be welcome for a family now worth £380million, but with more business interests than ever before - and not all of them thriving. There is plenty for Beckham to ponder as he plots how to splash the cash. Sources close to him insist Victoria’s fashion business no longer needs financial support, despite pre-tax losses widening to £16.5million, from £12.4million, in the latest available accounts, covering 2019. During that same time, profits at David Beckham Ventures Ltd (DBVL), the global brand management company wholly owned by the multimillionaire former footballer and his fashion designer wife, shrank to £11.3million in 2019, from £14.8million the year before. This reflected increased costs to help expand the business and adverse currency effects, as well as charitable donations. However, over the past two years, sources close to Beckham insist it is his own business ventures, rather than his wife’s, that are now his most significant outlays. “Her businesses don’t need any more investment,” one friend of the couple insisted. “Actually his biggest investments in the last couple years have been Inter Miami and also investing in new businesses like electric vehicles, esports.” The endless new ventures also include an engineered cannabinoid firm called Cellular Goods, but it is MLS “expansion club” Inter Miami who will most welcome the extra funds. Since Beckham and brothers Jorge and Jose Mas became sole owners, the team have struggled. After going six games unbeaten in August, the Phil Neville-managed side have just two wins in the last eight, and lie in 10th place. Neville admitted this week that his old Manchester United team-mate was getting frustrated. The end game for Beckham, it appears, is a significant shift away from brand partnerships towards a predominantly investment-based business as he aims to emulate the likes of Michael Jordan, who is now worth more than £1billion. With so much investment interest on the other side of the Atlantic, it goes some way to explaining the apparent shift in focus away from England for a man who once represented a new generation of patriotism. Since 2013, when leaked emails to his former PR man Simon Oliveira revealed just how much he was hoping to get knighted, he has seen a host of younger sporting figures receive the highest honour, most recently Lewis Hamilton. However, senior figures involved in the 2010 bid believe Beckham’s Qatar ambassadorial job should not rule him out of future honours selection, pointing out he has done more than his fair share for England’s cause. “Anyone who was there in Zurich would not dream of criticising Beckham now,” said one top figure involved then. “He did everything we asked of him, and more.” The only voice of dissent within that bid party comes in the form of a back-handed compliment: “You can tell how good his advisers were,” one source close to talks said. “His people were far too aware of the consequences to allow David to criticise the two winning nations, whatever his private feelings were.” Of course Beckham’s decision to stay quiet on Qatar would be proven particularly wise in the years that followed. In 2013 came a lucrative deal to join Middle East-owned Paris St-Germain, where he first appears to have grown close to club chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi. Al-Khelaifi was made minister without portfolio by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, around six months after Beckham retired in emotional scenes in Paris in the May of that year, and Beckham has since been a regular visitor to Qatar. It was here that the groundwork was laid for Beckham to one day become the face of Qatar - unbeknownst to the Football Association, it was losing whatever grip it had on English football’s greatest asset to spread its own gospel around the world. Pictures of his work there have so far been published only on local newspapers rather than his social media accounts. Qatar’s Peninsula newspaper website shows him visiting the Souq Waqif Art Centre earlier this month. Beckham has yet to speak on the record about his role, but his people have defended him after the likes of Amnesty, Peter Tatchell and other human rights campaign groups identified a potential conflict of ethics for a man who declared to GQ magazine in 2008: “When people talk to me about being a gay icon I think of it as a great honour.” Homosexuality remains illegal in Qatar, but those close to Beckham say he has received assurances that fans will not be discriminated against when they travel to the tournament in a year’s time. “Of course David wanted to ensure that he was informed about the facts and any concerns that he might have for his gay friends, football supporters and fans,” the source added. However, as far as the marketing experts are concerned, the Qatar deal marks a significant shift. Tie-ups with Adidas, the watch brand Tudor, life insurer AIA and the drinks giant Diageo’s Haig Club whisky remain, but Beckham, who is also a co-owner at League Two Salford City, has moved beyond the days of shifting Calvin Klein briefs as a main source of earning. “If this was the beginning of the Beckham branding journey, I doubt whether he would have accepted ambassadorship,” said Marcel Knobil, founder of Superbrands and the Brand Council consultancy. Knobil suggests it is too early to suggest Brand Beckham is losing its lustre, but this Qatar deal is a sign that the most carefully managed sporting persona may not be as paranoid as he once was about image.